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The art of remembrance

The black lab’s deep brown eyes stare out at Dani Cadieux, Medicine Class of 2016, as she moves her paintbrush gently across the canvas, refining the dog’s expressive gaze with each soft stroke.

The animal, Jet, is her painting’s heart and soul, capturing the loyal companion of Dr. Francis Chan, a beloved teacher and mentor at Schulich Medicine & Dentistry who passed away in 2013.

Commissioned by Dr. Marjorie Johnson for the Francis Chan Humanitarian Award, Cadieux’s painting honours the memory and legacy of Dr. Chan and his significant impact on the School and University communities. Presented through Clinical Anatomy graduate program, the Award is given to an individual who shows empathy, concern and commitment to the betterment and success of fellow students. Canvas prints of the piece will be presented to the award recipients each year, with the original remaining at the School.

In the finished painting, Jet stands faithfully at the side of an anatomy man, muscles and tendons exposed. The man appears to be speaking – gesturing with his arm, words seeming to form on his lips.

“For me, the anatomy man represents Dr. Chan as a teacher, and the image of Jet represents his impact on everyone around him,” Cadieux explained. “I wanted to remind people that Dr. Chan is still at everyone’s side.”

The painting took the better part of a year to complete after the initial request from Dr. Johnson. Cadieux and fellow medical student Hannah MacKenzie, Medicine Class of 2016, envisioned the concept for the painting based on the 16th century artwork of Andreas Vesalius. The design is an ode to Plate 2 from his “De Humanis Corporis Fabrica” or “On the Fabric of the Human Body” series.

Remarkably, Cadieux is a self-taught artist. After a lengthy hiatus from the discipline following high school, she picked up a paintbrush again at the start of her medical school journey. “Art has been the one thing I can work on for hours and not think about anything else,” she said. “I use it as an outlet to get away from the pressures of medicine.”

Cadieux often creates pieces at the request of friends and family. “I actually only have one of my own paintings hanging in my house,” she said with a laugh.

But this particular project was special, and the response has been overwhelmingly positive.

“Seeing how much this painting is triggering emotion, memory and happiness in remembering Dr. Chan is one of the most rewarding experiences I’ve had as an artist,” Cadieux said. “Everyone has a personal story to share about his impact on their lives.”

Cadieux never met Dr. Chan, but she feels a close connection to him through Jet. The well-known black lab is the animated star of several online anatomy modules created by his late owner. Throughout these lessons, a cartoon Jet teaches students with voice recordings of Dr. Chan.

“I know Dr. Chan’s voice so well because of these online modules,” Cadieux explained. “And now I feel that my connection to him is even stronger. I’ve learned so much more about him through this project.”